As I was sitting down in the truck all I could think about was the line Dan Aykroyd gives in the move "The Blues Brothers" before the last big chase scene. He states, "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses." To which John Belushi replies, "Hit it!"
OK, so I don't smoke, its over 1200 miles to Chicago and Jake Blues isn't sitting next to me, but that feeling at the start of a road trip is the same for everyone. Just what will this Amphicar I have purchased by only seeing a few images be like? Will the weather hold? Will the truck get a flat? etc etc. All these factors play up in your head to make it like a mini-adventure, or at least as much of an adventure as you can get on the US Interstate system where there is a McDonalds at nearly every exit and everything is available "drive-thru".
Its Thursday morning at the butt-crack of dawn and the truck is warmed up and ready to go. Armed with a fuel tank of fuel, tools and directions I head off towards Chicago to collect my "prize". One of the only good things about early morning driving is that you get to see wildlife you don't see later in the day. Before I got to Portland, ME I saw a number of eagles, some deer and even a fox. As the morning wore on more and more cars join me on the roads as people headed into work. Luckily the traffic was all flowing nicely and until eastern NY, there were no snags.
On the NY thruway outside of Albany it started to snow like crazy. The snow did not stick to the roads but it did drop visibility down quite a bit so I had to back down from my normal speeds to deal with the snow. The snow was off and on all through the upstate New York corridor, but as I went to college in Rochester, I knew this lake affect snow can make come and go at a moments notice, even if the weather report is for clear skies, as was the case on this day.
Moving on through Rochester, Buffalo and into Ohio the sun is starting to get lower and the day is nearly done. My goal is to get as close to mid-state IN as possible so that I can pick up my new car trailer first thing in the morning. By 11:00pm I had enough and found a roadside motel for the night. Coastal Maine to Indiana in one day, not bad. I figured after turning 40 I'd never be able to put on the miles like I used to, but it was no problem. Just keep those Diet Cokes cold and I'm good to go.
Sunrise in IN just outside the motel. Its time to press on. The goal today is to get the trailer first thing and then head out to the Chicago area to get near the Amphicar so that I can meet with the owner, finish paying for it, and get it loaded and head home on Saturday with a stop to meet Dave at Mid West Amphicar tossed in there somewhere. The things is... everything is going faster than I expected and I'm a full day ahead of schedule to get to the car, cool. The next step and the one I have been worrying about is getting the new trailer. I bought a car trailer from Rob at All Things Amphicar and Trailer on line. The problem is that Rob said he will not be around the day I plan to pick up my trailer so I am meeting someone else that will hand it over to me. That sounded like it could back-fire so I'm a little concerned, but I have been in contact with them via phone and told them I'll be there first thing Friday morning.
Its first thing Friday morning and I arrive at the trailer place a little after 8am. Unfortunately the sign on the door says they open at 9am so I took a nice little driving tour of Valparaiso, IN and went to the grocery store to stock up and supplies. I arrived back at the tiny and very dirty trailer shop about 9:15am. No one was around. 9:30, no signs of life. At 9:45 I called Rob and asked him what was up and I actually got him on the phone, wow. Before I left Maine I wanted to confirm a few things with Rob so I had emailed him a bunch of times and left messages and paged him, but never got a return to my requests for a number of days. I love guys like this... when the money is on the line everything has to be FedEx'd and ASAP, but when I needed information after he had my money, he was deadly slow to respond, if he responded at all. Rob told me he would call the guy and get him there. About 10:30am the owner of this shop showed up and helped me get my trailer.
I was on my way shortly and the owners of this shop "Performance Automotive" were very nice and helpful. However, I would be leaving something out if I said buying this trailer was a smooth experience. It wasn't. I decided that I would leave my 30' trailer at home and buy this new Challenger 18' car trailer from All Things Amphicar to have a small trailer on hand for cars, not the multiple Rovers I usually haul around. I had looked over their web site and it looked like a big professional operation that had tons of experience with Amphicars and trailers. The guy I was dealing with, Rob, seemed eager to sell me a trailer and I bit. I bought a trailer for full price (later to find out it was well over full price) because it was in stock and it would save me dragging my large trailer out to IN.
Now I'm a hand-shake kind of guy. If I say I'll send you the money... I'll send you the money. Rob however was a "FedEx it now or I'll sell it to someone else" kind of guy. This should have been a tip off for me, but I was blinded by the warm and fuzzy "Amphicar Community" feeling that I was getting from chatting with everyone on line so I ignored my own gut feelings (never do that) and figured everyone in the Amphicar hobby has to be cool. Imagine my surprise when I pull up to what I think is going to be a large trailer and Amphicar shop and find this tiny, grimy shop tucked down a dirt alley behind a dumpster (see images above). It turns out that All Things Amphicar isn't a shop. It is just a web page. There is no shop, no trailer dealership, no restorations on going, no Amphicars for sale, it is just images on a web page. Rob is a broker and the owner of Performance Automotive (Dave) is a relative of his, so Rob sells trailers to Amphicar folks. This was not what I expected at all. So when you see the All Things Amphicar and the Not So Big Trailer Company on line, you better believe that this company is "not so big", more like non existent in my opinion. Oh well, live and learn, nothing I can do about it now time to solider on to Mid West Amphicar. I wonder what I'll find there.
One more note. I towed my new trailer from All Things Amphicar and Trailer (aka: The Not So Big Trailer Co.) to outside Chicago and back to Maine. The weather was perfect for all but about 150 miles from MA to ME. When I looked over my trailer after unloading my Amphicar I noticed that all the paint was blown off the inner fenders, the front edges of the trailer and the leading edges of the fenders were already starting to rust. Thats 3 days old and 150 miles in the snow folks. I asked Rob about the paint and he told me these trailers had the best paint in the industry and never made any mention on post-customer service.
Moral to my story... next time you think a place is professional or going to treat you right just because a web site looks good... think again. Do more research and get references from past customers. If I had the trailer aspect of this trip to do over again... I wouldn't. If you want the same trailer just buy it direct from the Performance Automotive guys for about a grand less money: http://www.prfauto.com/
For a grand less I would have shut my mouth about the paint.
Moving on with the trailer in tow I'm still ahead of schedule. I can get to Mid West Amphicar today (Friday) and not have to wait until Saturday. As much as I complain about people needing to be "connected" and laugh at people who must have a cell phone with them at all times, I have to admit that having a cell phone with me made this trip go much faster and allowed me to move my schedule up by a day by easily talking with Dave at Mid West Amphicar and Mike Echemann, the seller of the Amphicar. So yes, now you can call me a hypocrite, go head get it over with.
The congested area around Chicago gave way to open fields on the way to MWA (Mid West Amphicar) and this area reminds me a lot of where I was born in IL. My family moved to Maine when I was a young boy, but I still have fond memories of tractors and farms, in a weird sort of way it feels like home, but not a home I could ever live in again. The ocean and mountains of Maine have strong grip on me and I can't be away from them for long without wanting to go "home".
Very near MWA it was nice to see some alternative energy being set up. These huge wind turbines were going full force in the winds sweeping across the IL fields. A few miles after these giants I arrived at MWA and met Dave (aka Dave the Wave) busily sanding out the body on his latest Amphicar project. Dave was great and showed me around his place and gave me a lot of insight into Amphicars and what to get ready for. I even got a great look at an Amphicar transaxle that he had apart for a customer. It was well worth the trip and I can't stress how helpful Dave was to me. He had helped me with advice when I was looking to purchase an Amphicar and he even came with me and helped me load up my basket case Amphicar from the storage unit it was sitting in a few towns away. All this I and I had yet to send a penny this guys way. This is the "Amphicar Community" I wanted to be a part of. Just so you don't think I took advantage of Daves kindness... I bought some of the needed steel panels from him and plan to send him my transaxle for a rebuild. Nice guys should finish first, although I realize they rarely do.
Once we had met Mike Echemann, current owner of the Amphicar, we completed our transaction and loaded up the car. The car was just what I had expected from the images I had been sent, and although it needs a lot of work (I knew this going in) I'm glad Mike described it correctly and gave me the opportunity to buy it. Mike could have easily sold it to some broker and then the car would have suddenly doubled in price. Then it would have been headed for some restoration shop so that some fat cat with $124,000 could buy it. Instead the Amphicar is going home where I plan to restore it and keep it in my family, as part of my extended automotive family. It isn't for resale and it isn't for sale.
Once we had the car and all the boxes of parts loaded, Dave and I headed back to his place and went for a "look see" in the Amphicar car pile behind his place.
There is something about old beat up cars. I think they have more character than an perfectly restored vehicle. I realize none of these cars will be swimming anytime soon, but being able to check them out was really cool. Dave told me he plans to make this one into a stretch version someday. I can't wait to see it.
The battle ship... nice.
Amphicar bits all around.
Dave and I shared a few more stories and then it was time to let Dave get back to work and for me to hit the road and head east, back to Maine with my new prize. I snapped a quick shot of Dave's own Amphicar and then headed back to the interstate.
Hmm... my "new" Amphicar is grey primer... it is a boat... its German... that beater Amphicar behind Dave's had "Battleship" written on it... I got it! The new name for the Amphicar is: Bismarck (at least until I get it restored). That or I need to spend less time alone in this truck.
After leaving MWA I booked it east with the "new" Amphicar in tow. I drove until about 10:30pm and in a funny turn of events, I ended up at the same road side motel in IN that I had stayed at the night before. The next morning I was out early, just before the sun, and headed home. At this stage in a road trip, when I have done what I set out to do, my "get home now" mode kicks in and I usually end up driving straight through to get home. It has only been a few days but I already miss my family, and when the "job is done" (aka collecting the Amphicar) I'm a home seeking missile on cruise control.
Heading east now I can watch the sunrise over Indiana as I head back to Maine. A quick hats of to IN for having a 70 mph posted speed limit... very nice. When you live in the congested North East, seeing a 70mph legal speed limit sign seems like a great thing. True I drive over 70mph anyway, but it makes it seem less illegal. There is logic there somewhere, I think.
Home seeking missile mode means fewer pictures too, but I could not resist this "sunset over the Amphicar" shot just across the border in New York on Saturday evening. The weather was calling for some serious lake affect snow so I took a more southerly route home through PA and CT to try to avoid the snow and wind of Buffalo and Rochester. My plan worked just right. I had tons of wind, fortunately it was behind me and a few times I thought the cap was going to blow off the truck, but everything was cool and I didn't see any snow until I crossed the border in MA. Then like a Hollywood director yelling "cue the snow machine" the snow came down and made it virtually impossible to see, and as much as I like driving in bad weather (don't ask... its a sickness) I had to pull over and find a motel near Sturbridge MA, it just wasn't safe with the trailer.
Sunday morning it was bright and sunny, but really cold. The roads were clear of snow now but covered in salt and sand. The Amphicar had a slight dusting of snow on it but luckily where I stopped only got a little snow. The area around Portsmouth, NH and just North of Boston got a lot of snow that night though, and I would have been driving through that area at the height of the storm, so as much as I hated to stop it was the smart thing to do (does that mean I'm getting old?). I wonder how many Amphicars have seen snow? I bet they'd actually do pretty well, much like the VW Beetles I used to have, but I digress. It was time to head home, as much as I hated hearing the slush and muck getting all over the Amphicar there was nothing that could be done. It was time to head down east.
4 hours later, and what seemed like all of MA and NH's road sand and salt allotment all over my rig, I arrived back home safely with the Amphicar. As much as I wanted to get the Amphicar cleaned up and into the garage, the wind was blowing hard and it was freezing outside with wind chills in the -30 range (ah... winter in Maine). The new toy was going to have to wait, so I went inside to relax. As most of you who have done projects like this know, its hard to leave a new project alone. Relaxing lasted about 15 minutes then I bundled up and headed outside to brave the cold to unload the Amphicar and get all the parts out of the truck.
The Bismarck is now spread out all over 2 bays of my garage as I slowly try and sort out what is missing and what is just too bad to re-use. I didn't take it apart, I hadn't seen an Amphicar up close until 2 days ago and now I have to put this one back together.
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East Coast Rover Co.
21 Tolman Road
Warren, ME 04864